(NewsNation) — President Joe Biden on Sunday ordered an “unidentified object” shot down with a missile by U.S. fighter jets Sunday over Lake Huron, and it was believed to be the same one tracked over Montana and monitored by the government beginning the night before, U.S. officials said.
The downing came after earlier objects over Alaska and Canada were shot out of the sky because they were flying at altitudes that posed a threat to commercial aircraft, according to the officials, who had knowledge of the downings and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operations.
It was extraordinary that four objects were shot out of the sky by U.S. fighter jets in eight days. Pentagon officials have said they don’t know when the last shootdown of an unknown or unauthorized object over U.S. territory occurred.
The latest object brought down was first detected on Saturday evening over Montana, but it was initially thought to be an anomaly. Radar picked it up again Sunday hovering over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and it was going over Lake Huron.
The Federal Aviation Administration also issued a NOTAM for northwest Michigan, declaring an area that includes part of Lake Michigan as “national defense airspace.”
U.S. officials were still trying to precisely identify the other two objects blown from the sky by F-22 fighter jets over the past two days. They also were working to determine whether China was responsible as concerns escalated about what Washington said was Beijing’s large-scale aerial surveillance program.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the two objects shot down in recent days were balloons, though smaller ones than the suspected Chinese spy balloon that was downed last week.
The downing comes after earlier objects in Alaska and Canada were shot out of the sky because they were flying at altitudes that posed a threat to commercial aircraft, according to the officials, who had knowledge of the downings and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive operations.
On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered a cylindrical, high-altitude object shot down over Canadian airspace. The country’s investigators are now looking for wreckage from the object, which was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet over the Yukon territory, Reuters reports.
On Friday, an object roughly the size of a small car was downed over remote Alaska, according to the White House. Both this object and the object downed over Canada appear to be balloons, according to U.S. Senate lawmakers.
The first balloon, which was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 3, was capable of collecting electronic communication. U.S. officials came to that conclusion based on photos of the balloon taken while it was in flight as well as debris recovered from the ocean.
The alleged spy balloon was believed to be part of a fleet developed for surveillance and an intelligence official told reporters balloons had been flown over more than 40 countries.
The Biden administration has said the first balloon was not a major breach, noting intelligence-gathering is happening all the time. Republicans have criticized the president for not shooting the balloon down sooner, but he has defended his decision to shoot the balloon down over the water to avoid potential deaths.
The balloons are believed to be part of China’s efforts to beat the U.S. in the sphere of “near space.” While balloons are older technology they can hold some advantages over satellites, including the ability to hover over a target for an extended period of time. They are also more difficult to detect with radar than other means of surveillance.
Officials said there is a blind spot when it comes to Chinese balloons, with intelligence indicating balloons had traversed U.S. airspace before during the Trump administration.
The U.S. is restricting six Chinese companies believed to be connected with the balloon program. Those companies will not be able to access U.S. technology without government approval.
China has maintained the first balloon was a civilian weather balloon and has called the U.S. irresponsible and “hysterical” for shooting down the flying objects.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.